NYT weighs justice vs. vengeance in the Woodmansee case

July 28th, 2011 at 2:42 pm by under Nesi's Notes

Thane Rosenbaum, a Fordham University professor, has an op-ed in today’s New York Times about the difference between justice and vengeance (“not as great as people think”) and society’s need for both.

Rosenbaum’s jumping-off point is the massacre in Norway, but he offers two more examples – the Casey Anthony trial, and the local controversy over Michael Woodmansee. After quoting John Foreman, the father of a Woodmansee victim who said he “intend[s] to kill this man” if he comes across him, he writes:

Such statements of unvarnished revenge make many uncomfortable. But how different is revenge from justice, really? Every legal system, however dispassionate and procedural, must still pass the gut test of seeming morally just; and revenge must always be just and proportionate. That is what the biblical phrase “eye for an eye” means. …

In threatening the man who slaughtered his son, Mr. Foreman is saying that he doesn’t believe that the debt Mr. Woodmansee owes to society, and to him personally, has been satisfied. The wrongdoer has grossly underpaid for his crime and the score remains unsettled. …

Getting even is not complicated arithmetic. A just outcome in Norway, however, given the number of young lives taken, will doubtless be unsatisfying. Casey Anthony watchers will resign themselves to accepting the jury’s verdict and await the next celebrity trial. And John Foreman, the aggrieved father with the anguish of a debt still unpaid, is left to count the days.

An earlier version of this post incorrectly referred to Professor Rosenbaum as “she” rather than “he.”

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